Members of the Mississippi Air National Guard and the Mississippi Army National Guard stood outside the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, MS Wednesday morning cheering and thanking medical personnel arriving and departing the University Hospital during shift change.
The city of Jackson will cover insurance premiums of city workers on a single plan beginning Thursday as part of an effort to promote access to health care during the coronavirus pandemic.
The move — which was approved by the City Council in its most recent budget — will amount to a bump in pay for workers who currently pay for insurance.
It is also meant to encourage workers without insurance to sign up.
Robert Blaine, the city’s chief administrative officer, estimates between 30% to 40% of the city’s 2,200 workers are not enrolled in the city’s health insurance program.
The city of Jackson will absorb the insurance premium payments of some of its city workers, a move officials hope will encourage workers to secure health insurance during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Justin Vicory)
City officials say they hope the approach will become a model for other cities amid the coronavirus pandemic. Hinds County, the most populous in Mississippi, has seen more cases of the coronavirus than anywhere in the state, with more than 7,100 total cases, according to the state Health Department.
“It’ll mean a long overdue pay bump for our city employees,” said Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. “But more importantly, it’s a way to give our residents an even greater assurance during this COVID outbreak.”
Low pay a reason for opting out
Most city employees who have opted out of health insurance have done so because they couldn’t afford it on city wages, said Blaine.
The median salary of a Jackson city worker is $33,459, according to city records, but some positions start in the low $20Ks, making the additional cost of an insurance premium out of reach.
The new plan will cover individuals with single coverage. The city already pays half of all insurance premiums for its employees, whether its single coverage, an employee plus one or a family plan of three or more.
That means an individual with single coverage pays $75.70 a month under the city’s plan. Over the course of a year, the savings would equal about $900.
“This is — in essence— a pay raise. And it comes in this day and age of COVID and getting our population more healthy. It is a very proactive move by the administration and a great thing to do for our employees,” said Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay.
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Workers who visit a hospital or clinic will still be expected to cover the cost of copays and the deductible under the city plan. The enrollment period is in January.
Councilman De’Keither Stamps has championed the coverage of premiums for city workers for years.
“An extra hundred dollars a month is a big deal for the pothole fillers, those working in sewage ditches, other workers. A lot of them don’t even sign up for insurance because they can’t afford it. So, this is a cheaper and more effective way at giving raises and it will help with retention,” he said.
Plan comes amid revenue declines
The absorption of insurance premiums comes as the city has been forced to deal with an approximate 15% loss in sales tax revenue as businesses were temporarily shut down due to the pandemic.
The city is also suffering from a loss in city-owned event attendance receipts and is saddled with an increase in debt payments.
Blaine said the administration set aside money with the expectation it would provide some kind of worker relief as it nears finalization of a citywide salary plan. Once fully implemented, the premium relief will cost the city just over $1.5 million, he said.
The salary study was first announced shortly after the mayor took office in 2017 when he concluded city workers earn thousands of dollars less than not just their non-civil counterparts but also those in similarly sized cities.
“We are entirely out of date,” the mayor said at the time.
“If we don’t talk about how we pay people better, then we’re not doing all that we can to get the best and brightest and make it attractive to work in the city of Jackson,” he said.
Some examples of low worker pay in Jackson:
- A general maintenance employee earns between $31,455 to $43,273 in Jackson, according to salary.com, an organization that tracks pay based on location and experience. As a city employee, the same worker starts at $20,176.
- In some cases, additional abilities and experience don’t affect salaries. In the city’s landfill operations, level 1 and level 2 workers both earn $20,176 a year.
- In other cases the difference in pay is minor, such as the less than $700-a-year difference between a teacher and a teacher aide or substitute at the city’s childhood development centers.
- A “senior” maintenance worker in the parks department makes $624 a year more than a beginning worker, a difference of just over 25 cents per hour.
The move on insurance premiums follows the administration and City Council’s decision to raise the base pay of Jackson police officers, the first raise 11 years.
Contact Justin Vicory at 769-572-1418 or [email protected] Follow @justinvicory on Twitter.
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